Pa­tri­ots click­ing at right time

New Eng­land builds 2-game di­vi­sion lead

Woonsocket Call - - Front Page - By ARNIE STA­PLE­TON As­so­ci­ated Press

N.E. looks strong af­ter smack­down of Bron­cos

DEN­VER — Quar­ter­back Brock Osweiler takes the blame for Den­ver's sput­ter­ing of­fense. Brock Olivo keeps say­ing the un­ceas­ing blun­ders on spe­cial teams are his fault.

“My bad,” Osweiler said af­ter the Bron­cos stalled three times in­side the New Eng­land 21 in their 41-16 loss to New Eng­land that con­tin­ued a sea­son-long trend of set­tling for field goals.

“It's not the first time we couldn't score touch­downs,” Osweiler noted. “But that starts with me. I'm go­ing to have to watch the tape and see what de­ci­sions I could have made dif­fer­ently.”

Olivo's aw­ful spe­cial teams units had their worst show­ing yet with four foul-ups in Den­ver's fifth con­sec­u­tive dou­ble-digit loss that dropped the Bron­cos 3-6. Might one or both pay with his job? Rookie coach Vance Joseph wouldn't com­mit to stick­ing with Osweiler against Cincin­nati next week, say­ing, “We're go­ing to watch the tape to­mor­row as a staff and de­ter­mine who the quar­ter­back is next week.”

He seemed to in­di­cate that he'll be stick­ing with his rookie spe­cial teams co­or­di­na­tor, how­ever.

“When you lose like this, it's on all of us,” Joseph said when asked if he'd make a change on his coach­ing staff mid­sea­son. “It's a staff that we chose and that we feel great about. I wouldn't say that; I would say it's on all of us. We have to coach bet­ter and play bet­ter.”

That's the same mantra Joseph has been re­peat­ing ever since the Bron­cos lost to the New York Gi­ants on Oct. 15. Since then, they've been outscored by 97 points, the worst point dif­fer­en­tial in the NFL in that span.

“We still have a good foot­ball team in us,” in­sisted Von Miller, who was once again neu­tral­ized by an early deficit. “But what we put out there is a bad foot­ball team.”

It would seem un­likely the Bron­cos would turn to Pax­ton Lynch, who failed even against vanilla de­fenses in the pre­sea­son, as long as they have a pulse in the play­off race, but the Bron­cos could go back to Trevor Siemian, who was benched two weeks ago.

The prob­lem, how­ever, wasn't so much the sput­ter­ing of­fense as it was their hor­rific spe­cial teams.

For the first time since 1979, the Pa­tri­ots had a spe­cial teams takeaway , a blocked punt and a kick­off re­turn for a touch­down , a tri­fecta that fu­eled a com­fort­able 27-9 half­time lead.

Dion Lewis has a 103-yard kick­off re­turn and Rex Burk­head blocked a punt af­ter catch­ing a touch­down pass.

“That was great,” Tom Brady said. “We know the cal­iber of spe­cial­ists we have. They do not get op­por­tu­ni­ties very of­ten and the only got one op­por­tu­nity tonight. Dion Lewis took it to the house so that was pretty sweet. And then the blocked punt was great and set up for great field po­si­tion. Those were two huge plays.”

He didn't even men­tion Bron­cos rookie re­turner Isa­iah McKen­zie's muffed punt, his fifth fum­ble of the sea­son, or the Bron­cos get­ting caught with 12 men the next time the Pa­tri­ots punted, re­sult­ing in a first down — and an­other touch­down.

Other takeaways from the Pa­tri­ots' first back-to-back wins in Den­ver in 51 years:

MORE McKEN­ZIE? One of Joseph's first eye­brow-rais­ing moves as coach was to name McKen­zie his start­ing punt re­turner just when the com­pe­ti­tion was about to be­gin. The rea­son­ing was that the Bron­cos had se­lected the diminu­tive re­ceiver in the fifth round out of Ge­or­gia for that spe­cific pur­pose.

He's stead­fastly stuck with him through all his fum­bles, in­clud­ing Sun­day night.

“He's our punt re­turner,” Joseph ex­plained. “That's his job, so he has to do it. Look­ing for­ward, if he can't do the job, we have to change it.”

McKen­zie sat alone on the bench for a long time af­ter his lat­est blun­der, which put Den­ver in an­other early hole.

“I just have to make bet­ter de­ci­sions, put up a fair catch,” McKen­zie said. “I need to stop try­ing to make a play when it's not there.”

WHAT IN­JURY?: Wel­come back to New Eng­land, Martel­lus Ben­nett . The newly ac­quired tight end didn't take long to fit back in as he caught three passes for 38 yards de­spite a shoul­der in­jury that led to his re­lease from Green Bay. The Pa­tri­ots claimed Ben­nett on Thurs­day af­ter he was waived.

“Last week I thought I was go­ing to be on IR,” Ben­nett said. “It's just been a sur­real week for me.” THOMAS RE­TURNS: Af­ter go­ing nearly a cal­en­dar year with­out a touch- down, De­mary­ius Thomas reached the end zone for the sec­ond straight week, catch­ing a 7-yard pass from Osweiler in the third quar­ter that pulled Den­ver to 27-16.

Now it's Em­manuel San­ders who is mired in a touch­down-less streak. He hasn't scored since Week 2, a stretch that in­cludes two games he missed with an an­kle in­jury. Af­ter catch­ing one pass for 30 yards in his re­turn to the lineup last week at Philadel­phia, San­ders had six catches for 137 yards Sun­day night.

AL­TI­TUDE AT­TI­TUDE: The Pa­tri­ots aren't go­ing home for an­other week. They'll train at the Air Force Academy, where the 6,621-foot elevation will help pre­pare them for their trip to Es­ta­dio Azteca in Mex­ico City where they'll fact the Oak­land Raiders next week 7,200 feet above sea level.

“We're away from our nor­mal rou­tine, but we've got to make it as nor­mal as pos­si­ble be­cause we're play­ing a good team,” Brady said. “They're on the road and we're on the road. It's kind of a dif­fer­ent type of game. We've never played there, so the only thing we can really con­trol is our ef­fort and our prepa­ra­tion.”

File photo by Louri­ann Mardo-Zayat / lmzart­

Tom Brady and the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots lead the AFC East at 7-2 fol­low­ing Sun­day night’s blowout win over Den­ver. The Pats face Oak­land in Mex­ico City Sun­day.

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